Mirza Aslam Beg, (Urdu: مرزا اسلم بیگ; born 2 August 1931; SBt, HI(M), NI(M), afwc, psc), is a retired four-star rank general officer and military academic who tenured as the Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan Army from 1988 until his retirement in 1991. His four-star appointment came in effect after President General Zia-ul-Haq, met with a tragic and mysterious air crash on 17 August 1988.
After receiving confirmation from Prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Beg continued to hold the powerful and four-star assignment of chief of army staff until 1991, when his political ambitions forced the then-President Ghulam Ishaq Khan to nominate General Asif Navaz as the new chief of army staff three months prior to his retirement. As chief of army staff, Beg is credited for improving the fighting and combat operational capabilities of the Pakistan Army. Apart from his military career, Beg briefly tenured as professor at the National Defence University (NDU) and regularly writes columns in The Nation.
Early life in India and education
Mirza Aslam Beg was born in the small village, Muslimpatti , in Azamgarh district, Uttar Pradesh of British Indian Empire, to the Urdu-speaking Indian Muslim family on 2 August 1931. His father, Mirza Murtaza Beg, was an advocate and practicing lawyer who had hold a well known prestige and respected name in the law circles of the Allahabad High Court. The Beg family had traced a long ancestral roots of the Mughal Royal family who once emperors of India from early 15th century to the early 18th century.
He was educated at the Azamgarh where he graduated from a local high school and enrolled at the Shibli Academy for his undergraduate studies, in 1945. Subsequently, he earned Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Liberal Arts from Shibli Academy in 1949.
During his college years, Mirza played collegiate field hockey and was vital member of his hockey team which consisted mainly Muslims. According to his memoirs, Beg sought revenge on a Hindu politician belonging to Congress Party after the politician had beaten up a member of his hockey team. Egged on by a mob of students, Beg used his hockey stick to beat up the politician at a public meeting. This incident came after his graduation from college in 1949, and Beg's family decided to move to Pakistan in 1949 after the Indian partition.
Career in the military
The Beg family set sailed for Karachi from Mumbai via Pakistan Navy ship in 1949. His elder brother was already a commissioned officer in the Pakistan Army and encouraged young Beg to follow his path to seek a career in the army. Beg recalled his memoirs to his Indian interviewer and called Pakistan as "my dream country". In 1950, Beg was accepted at the Pakistan Military Academy and graduated with a bachelor's degree in War studies from a class of 6th PMA Long Course, in 1952.
In 1952, he gained commissioned as second lieutenant in the Baloch Regiment and initially assisting the command of a infantry platoon. From 1952-1958, he progressed well towards the military ranks, having being promoted to army lieutenant in 1956; and army captain in 1958. He received recommendations from his field commanding officer and was selected by the special branch to join the special forces. In 1958, he passed the physical and psychological analysis tests for the special forces. Beg departed to United States, to complete special forces training with the US Army Special Forces in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
In 1960, he returned to Pakistan and was inducted in the Special Service Group (SSG) after receiving the promotion to the rank of Major. His new assignment was in field and commanded a commando company of the SSG. His first combat experience took place in 1960 in Western Pakistan when he commanded his commando company to remove the Nawab of Dir in Chitral in the northern part of North-West Frontier Province. He served well in 1965 war with India and commanded a SSG counter-initiatives company against the Indian Army.
Academia and professorship
After the 1965, Mirza was promoted as Lieutenant-Colonel in 1967 and entered in the National Defence University (NDU) to continue his higher education. His course mate included Lieutnenat-Colonel Zahid Ali Akbar who would later directed the Program-706 in 1970s.
He earned Master of Science in War studies from NDU and published his master's thesis, entitling, "A journey of pain and fear" which provide critical analysis of state sponsored terrorism and its effects on geo-military positions of the countries. In 1971, he was called back to the battle assignments and commanded a SSG regiment during the 1971 war with India. After the war, he left special forces after being promoted to one-star rank, Brigadier, and moved onto to accept the war studies professorship at the NDU. From 1975-78 Brigadier Mirza Aslam BeG tenured as the professor of war studies and remains Chief Instructor of Armed Forces War College (afwc) at the then National Defence University until January 1978.
About the 1971 war, Beg maintained that Pakistan Armed Forces "learned a valuable strategic lesson", and that quoted that the government also learned that "there is no point in going to war unless you are absolutely certain you have the capability to win". From 1994-99, Beg continued his teaching at NDU and published his two books on national security, nuclear weapons development, defence diplomacy and international relations.
Senior command appointments
In 1978, Beg left the university after being promoted to two-star appointment and elevated as Major-General in the army. Beg became GOC of the 14th Army Division, stationed at the Okara Military District of Punjab Province in Pakistan. On March 1979, chief of army staff, General Zia-ul-Haq, directed the II Strike Corps' commander "to ascertain the likely reaction of the Pakistan Armed Forces officers if Bhutto was hanged", in accordance to the Supreme Court's verdict. During this meeting with the commander of II Corps, Lieutenant-General Rahimuddin Khan, Beg objected the hanging of Bhutto and maintained to his senior commanders that: The hanging of Bhutto would be an unwise act, as it could cause very serious "political aberrations" that will be difficult to correct." Beg offered his opinion by proposing to exile Bhutto and maintained that army troops are trained to fight the enemy, not their own people." According to Beg, General Rahim lost his temper and called-off the meeting. General Rahimuddin Khan quickly directed his Chief of Staff, Brigadier Hamid Gul, to alleviate from his command but Gul resisted marking his opinion on Beg's removing as "not be appropriate at this moment."
After General Rahimuddin Khan relied the massage to General Zia, Beg was relieved from his command and instead posted as an Adjutant-General at the GHQ in Rawalpindi, which he served until 1980. He was later elevated as the Chief of General Staff (CGS) of the Pakistan Army until 1985. As CGS, Beg was in charge of planning the counter-offensive to the 1984 Indian invasion of Siachen marking the beginnings of the ongoing Siachen conflict. After serving at the GHQ, Beg was elevated to three-star assignment and promoted as lieutenant-general in 1985. Ultimately,he was named field operations commander of the XI Corps stationed in Peshawar, which had been facing the indirect war with Soviet Army in Afghanistan, since 1980.
Chief of army staff
By March 1987, Beg was promoted to four-star assignment and was appointed as Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) of Pakistan Army, though he remained under President General Zia-ul-Haq, who had been the chief of army staff since 1976. Beg succeeded General Zia-ul-Haq as the new chief of army staff when President General Zia-ul-Haq's plane crashed on 17 August 1988. American military authors regarded Beg as "mild but bookish general" keen to drive the country towards the tracks of democracy.
The United States military regarded Beg as "Unpredictable General" could not be counted on to continue close military cooperation with the United States as Zia did in 1980s. The Pentagon had commented on Beg as " a professional soldier" with no political ambitions, but independent-minded and unpredictable. In 1988, one Pentagon military official added that Beg is hard to figure out and difficult to read his mindset unlike other Pakistan army generals, he hasn't been particularly friendly with the US." Against the popular perception to take over, Beg endorsed Ghulam Ishaq Khan as President and ultimately called for new general elections which resulted in a peaceful democratic transfer of government to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with Benazir Bhutto as the Prime minister. Beg did not consult any of his corps commanders or principal staff officers (PSOs) and called on the chief of naval staff, admiral Iftikhar Sirohey, and chief of air staff air chief marshal Hakimullah, to discussed the matter briefly and within three hours of General Ziaul Haq's death, restored the Constitution and handed over power to Ghulam Ishaq Khan. It was an unprecedented decision in favour of democracy and the rule of law. Beg was endorsed by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who confirmed his four-star appointment as chief of army staff until 1991, when he was replaced by General Asif Nawaz.
In 1988, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had deep respect for Beg for restoring the democracy and conferred Beg with specially designated civil award, Tamgha-e-Jamhuriat (lit. Medal of Democracy). In fact, Beg is the only Pakistani and four-star general officer to have been decorated with such honor. Although Benazir Bhutto was criticized by many for decorating a four-star general with a civilian award, she used to justify her decision, saying that Beg deserved this honour because he refrained from indulging in yet another military adventure like Zia and instead helped Pakistan to a peaceful transition of power through general elections. He retired from the army on 16 August 1991 after completing 39 years of military service. As COAS, General Beg is credited by an Australian expert for encouraging "wider thinking about tactics" within the Pakistan Army, particularly for establishing a much improved logistics chain and "contributed immensely to the army’s warfighting capabilities."
Soviet withdrawal and Afghan war
As chief of army staff, Beg determinately remained military's control over the policies regarding the national security, and highly tolerated Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's role in formulating the national security policies. Beg testified that the "real causes behind the "Pressler amendment" was significant as long as Pakistan was considered an important entity of weakening Soviet Union's influence in South Asia. Various writers greatly questioned his idea of "Strategic depth", which aim to transfer of Pakistan's military science command in dense Afghanistan, against the war with India.
Beg endorsed the role of his deputy, Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul in Afghanistan war who masterminded the Jalalabad operation which failed brutally; Gul was deposed by Prime Minister Bhutto soon after this action. Beg's role remained vital during and after the Soviet Union's troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and showed no intention to coordinate joint efforts with the U.S. to end the war in the country. In late 1989, Pakistan and U.S. propagated the message of departing of communist government in order to bring the clerical government instead. Authors and media reporters maintained that Beg controversially proposed an intelligence contingency plan between the agencies of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran that would grow into the "core of the Muslim world." Such idea was met in hostility in the government and Foreign Minister Yacob Khan and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were the ones who objected and opposed to this idea.
In 1989, Beg drafted a contingency plan and organized a massive military exercise, Exercise Zarb-e-Momin, to prove the military solidarity contentions. One of the notable events as a stint as a chief of army staff during the end of Cold war took place in 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait due to amidst political tensions between two Arab countries. Beg fully endorsed the United States-led military campaign against Iraq. In a briefing given to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Beg maintained that assessed that once the ground battle with Iraqi Army was joined, the Iraqi Army would comprehensively defeat and repel the American Army.
Ironically, Beg accused the Western countries for encouraging Iraq to invade Kuwait, though he kept his armed forces fighting against Iraq in support to Saudi Arabia.  In 1990, he hold state dinner for United States Central Command (SCENTCOM) commander General Norman Schwarzkopf where, together with Chairman Joint Chiefs Admiral Iftikhar Sirohey, brief the USCENTCOM on Pakistan Armed Forces battel preparations and military operational capabilities of Pakistan armed forces in Saudi contingent. The Iraq war with Kuwait was a polarizing political issue in Pakistan and Beg carefully commanded and deployed the Pakistan Armed Forces' contingent forces during the Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Beg calculated that the popular opinion would be in favor of Iraq, as the anti-American sentiment in the Middle East began to grow at that time. But, neither did Beg's strategic prediction come true nor he get extension. Soon after the end of Gulf war, Beg was proceeded towards the retirement on 18 August 1991.